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Suns rise to occasion, hand Celtics close loss

Tatum led all scorers with 23 points to go with seven assists and four rebounds

By A. Sherrod Blakely

The Boston Celtics’ yo-yo of a season continues with yet another up-and-down performance that ended with a 100-91 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Boston has now lost four of their last six games as they gear up for the final game of their West Coast trip against the NBA-leading Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

And Sunday’s game wasn’t decided until the final minute of play which should come as no surprise when these two teams face each other.

Sunday afternoon’s matchup was the seventh time in their last eight meetings the margin of victory being by single digits.

Boston was actually within one possession (94-91) with a minute to play after Payton Pritchard’s 3-pointer.

But the Celtics could inch no closer as Phoenix closed out the game by scoring the final six points of play.

Jayson Tatum led all Celtics with 23 points, seven assists, and four rebounds. Kemba Walker chipped in with 14 points while Daniel Theis (12 points), Pritchard (12 points), and Grant Williams (10) also reached double figures scoring for Boston.

The Suns were led by Mikal Bridges (19 points, nine rebounds) and Devin Booker (18 points, 11 assists). Cameron Johnson also had a strong game off the Phoenix bench, with 17 points.

The Celtics, continuing the season-long trend of playing without key players, fell behind early.

While the root of Boston’s early struggles could be traced to several factors (poor shooting being the biggest), the absence of Jaylen Brown (sore left knee) was particularly impactful.

His presence certainly helps Boston.

But just as important is his production which ranks among the NBA’s best to start games.

Brown averages 7.2 points per game in the first quarter which is tied for the 10th-highest scoring average in the first.

Phoenix made the most of Boston being short-handed, by opening play with a 10-3 run.

The first quarter ended with the Celtics facing a 27-19 deficit that frankly, could have been significantly deeper when you factor in they shot less than 30 percent in the first.

But the Celtics’ bounce back was fueled in large part by the 3-ball which chipped away at the Suns’ double-digit lead that was down to just three points (52-49) at the half.

Tatum continued to sparkle for Boston, scoring 12 points in the first half. Boston also got a nice lift from Williams who got the starting nod. While he’s called upon to provide rebounding and defense, Williams found himself matched up on a number of occasions with a smaller defender.

Rather than hesitate, Williams hurried about to get easy scores which led to a solid first half which is when he scored all of his 10 points for the game.

The first half deficit Boston faced was down to a mere one-possession game at the half, but Phoenix came out in the third quarter with a 13-6 run to push the Suns’ lead back to double-digits.

Phoenix continued to push the pace in the third quarter as their control of the game continued to rise.

But as we’ve seen time and time again with the Celtics, no lead or deficit is safe from them.

After former Celtic E’Twaun Moore’s 12-foot floater put the Suns ahead 76-59, Boston would close out the third with a 9-0 spurt which brought them within 76-68 going into the fourth. And while they managed to inch closer, this was yet another one in which Boston’s best simply wasn’t good enough to get the victory.

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